Taking Time to be Brief

“I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.”

Mark Twain’s famous quote hides a lot of truth behind its apparent absurdity. Brevity is not only the soul of wit, but also the soul of wisdom. Whether you are composing a letter, writing a corporate report, or managing the reopening of your business after COVID-19 , you should never judge your success by the volume of your output.

This lesson is lost on our bureaucrats, who are competing to see who can generate the most detailed rules to apply to their post-pandemic domains. Bar patrons must be kept six feet apart, or have plastic shields installed between them. Schoolchildren of all ages must wear masks and avoid exchanging items. Base runners must not banter with the fielders while waiting for the next batter. Whatever the circumstances, some government employee is toiling away on your dime to come up with a document on how you should handle it.

But life, like everything, is a matter of priorities. Every line of your letter, every bullet point in your report, every rule in your guidelines, dilutes the rest and risks obscuring your message. Every word you write has a cost to the reader, just like every piece of metal you add to an airplane’s wing adds to its weight. The best engineers build with enough material—but no more. So it is with the best authors.

Make brevity your goal.

Hone your words—and your rules—to the minimum.

And with that in mind, THE END.

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